Escalation of negative social exchange: Reflexive punishment or deliberative deterrence?

Published on Sep 1, 2019in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
· DOI :10.1016/J.JESP.2019.103823
James Vandermeer1
Estimated H-index: 1
(U of C: University of Chicago),
Christine Hosey4
Estimated H-index: 4
(U of C: University of Chicago)
+ 1 AuthorsBoaz Keysar49
Estimated H-index: 49
(U of C: University of Chicago)
Abstract Negative escalation of social exchange exacts significant costs on both individuals and society. Instead of in-kind reciprocity—an eye for an eye—negative reciprocity may escalate, taking two eyes for an eye. We tested two competing mechanisms for negative escalation using a modified dictator game that reliably produces escalating reciprocity to others' negative actions but not to positive actions. According to one mechanism, escalation is strategic: a deliberate attempt to deter future harm. According to another mechanism, escalation is reflexive: an impulsive act of retribution without consideration of future consequences. In seven experiments, we find clear evidence consistent with a reflexive mechanism. Encouraging deliberation reduced negative escalation in one-shot interactions as well as in repeated interactions. Focusing on future consequences decreased escalation whereas disabling deliberation increased escalation. Finally, the explicit goal to punish another's negative behavior increased escalation while the goal of deterring future transgressions did not. These experiments suggest that escalation is a reflexive form of punishment rather than a deliberate act of strategic deterrence. Encouraging, enabling, or training deliberative processes may effectively reduce costly escalation in everyday life.
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